These are the 'priority matters' SA courts will hear during lockdown - Ronald Lamola

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For the remainder of Level 4 of the lockdown, South Africa's courts will prioritise cases involving corruption, sexual offences, gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), serious violent crimes, robbery, murder and the violation of Covid-19 regulations.

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This according to Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, who issued directives for Level 4 operations in terms of the Disaster Management Act on Wednesday.

"The measures are in keeping with the national effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in all justice service points. They also provide information on justice services that are available during the Level 4 lockdown," Lamola said.

According to Lamola's statement, all criminal cases enrolled during alert Level 4 must be postponed, "save for prioritised cases or trials, those taking place within the context of the permitted services stipulated within the regulations or where special arrangements have been made with the judicial officer hearing the matter".

Lamola said a person who in the past 14 days had been in contact with, or exposed to, another person who had tested positive for Covid-19 - except a person who had tested positive but has recovered and subsequently tested negative - may not be allowed to enter a courtroom, court house or a justice service point during the national state of disaster.

Compliance with safety measures

"Access to the courts is limited to persons with a material interest in a case provided that a judicial officer directs the number of persons in a room be reduced to comply with safety measures and social distancing requirements."

He added that audiovisual links, where these exist, must be used for the purposes of postponing cases if the accused persons are in custody and also in unopposed bail applications for charges listed in schedule 1, 5 or 6 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

Where there is no audiovisual link installed between the correctional centre and the court, alternative audiovisual communication such as teleconferencing and videoconferencing must be used.

"Matters where children are detained in child- and youth-care centres, as well as correctional centres, must be brought before the court for consideration of continued detention.

"Civil cases that are not identified as urgent may not be placed on the court roll. However, judicial officers may authorise matters on the court roll to be heard through teleconference and videoconference means," Lamola said. 

Some of the other cases that may be heard include:

- Child and spousal maintenance proceedings;

- Protection orders in terms of the Domestic Violence Act (1998) or the Protection from Harassment (2011);

- Foster care applications and hearings;

- Matters in respect of the care and contact as of children, international child abduction cases and adoption applications and hearings.

"Service of processes and execution of writs and warrants by sheriffs must be limited to cases which are urgent or permitted services. A judicial officer who presides over a matter in court may, where the interests of justice require, order that application of any provision of these direction be deviated from.

"Continued services rendered by the Offices of the Master of the High Court include payments to natural guardians, tutors and curators, or for and on behalf of minors and persons under curatorship as well as the processing of documentation required for the burial of deceased persons and the urgent appointment of curators," Lamola said.

Wear masks, wash hands

The provision of legal aid by Legal Aid South Africa will be limited to telephonic advice services. The call centre number is 0800 110 110.

Every court manager or manager of a service point or any person managing the court must ensure that there is an adequate supply of sanitisers and soap for people to wash and sanitise their hands.

Everyone entering the court premises must at all times wear a face mask and observe social distancing requirements.

"The department reaffirms its commitment to the safety and health of its staff and members of the public. While some sites of service have been affected by Covid-19, mitigating measures to address the spread of the virus at these points have been taken," Lamola said.

For the detailed regulations published in Government Gazette No 43258 and an updated list of justice service sites affected by Covid-19, visit justice.gov.za.



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